The Bosc or Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) is a medium sized African monitor though despite that many find the animal an overwhelming experience. Considered by most to be incredibly intelligent, monitors, in my opinion, are the ultimate in reptile ownership. They are fierce, intelligent, and can be quite the handful when adults. In particular, the Bosc monitor is too well known for its supposed “dog-like” tameness when most Boscs are anything but tame. What many owners see as tame is merely stressed out behavior from inadequate conditions and habitat. This is not to say that there are not some truly tame Boscs but it is to say that many people expect far too much from what is, essentially, a wild animal, and like any wild animal, a monitor can and will inflict pretty serious damage on you or anyone or anything it feels threatened by. If you own a Bosc and are routinely careless, be prepared to need Emergency Room treatment for severe lacerations.
Boscs are widely collected in the wild and rarely bred in captivity despite many importers or distributors claims to the contrary. Because of this, many of the imported Boscs are stressed, dehydrated and parasite infested. Through this care sheet I hope to give the reader and potential owners a bit more quality information than they may find in other places. Many care sheets are completely unreliable and distribute too much false information. Hopefully I can start to rectify that despite my experience being limited.
Choosing a monitor
While I would advise everyone to avoid pet stores when they go to purchase their first Bosc monitor, the reality of the situation is most animals purchased there are impulse buys. For those serious about keeping these unique animals, I would recommend trying very hard to find someone who’s received CB babies. Its rare to find amid the false claims of most distributors, but its worth looking. Unfortunately, many of the people with “impulse buying syndrome” have no business owning an exotic animal, especially a powerful lizard who can reach between 3 and 5 feet. However, if you know what you’re getting into and still wish to choose an animal in a pet store there are a few things you should look for:
- Does the pet store keep its cages and aquariums clean? (This one is a very important question to consider)
- Do you see any dead or obviously sick animals in any of the cages? (As is this One)
- Talk with some of the staff. How much are they able to tell you about the animals without referring to a book?
- When looking at the Bosc monitor in a cage is the animal thin or bony? Thin and bony monitors are usually dehydrated and stressed.
- Is it active or is it just laying in the bottom of the cage? If active, its eyes should be open, tongue flicking and responsive to your presence.
- When purchasing a Bosc you should never go for the animal that seems most docile. In the end, its likely sick from improper care.
- And last, but not least… use your common sense. If the animal looks thin, bony, doesn’t move and isn’t responsive then don’t buy it. You’ll just be allowing that pet store to go and get another poor Bosc and kill it through slow dehydration, starvation and stress.
Boscs at Home
Now, once you have chosen to get your monitor, your first priority should be the animal’s new habitat. Now, many, many people disagree on a lot of things that have to do with Monitor Husbandry simply because the rearing, keeping, breeding, and nurturing of monitors in captivity is a relatively recent development in the pet trade. (Between 25 and 30 years ago the Germans were the first to successfully raise, breed, and hatch many species of monitor)
My recommendation for a hatchling Sav of 12 inches TL (Total Length) or under is a 55 gallon breeder aquarium or the equivalent. But you should be prepared to very quickly need to replace that with a bigger enclosure. Once a Sav hits about 19 inches TL the smallest enclosure I’d go with is a 5x4x3 (LxWxH) enclosure. After a Bosc reaches 24 to 26 inches TL you should have an enclosure ready that is, at the very least, 6x4x3. If you can provide bigger than that, your Sav will appreciate it.
Inside the Enclosure
When you first bring your Savannah home, for the first few days I recommend using a paper towel or newspaper substrate so you can obtain a fresh stool sample to bring into a vet to check for parasites. Now, many times, a monitor will live just fine with parasites as long as their needs are properly met. After all, parasites aren’t designed to kill the host usually since that would defeat their purpose entirely. But, it is still recommended to have this checked out but its up to you, as the owner, to decide if you want to treat it or not. If the animal appears ill, has stopped eating and seems listless, I’d say treatment will need to commence from there.
The other thing, when you first get your monitor home, do NOT immediately try to feed it or even bother it much. Give her or him time to adjust to its new home and make sure you provide him/her a water bowl big enough for them to submerge in. This will aid in re-hydrating them. After about 4 or 5 days then you can try feeding. I’ll get to food selections in a moment.
After a month or so of the newspaper substrate, you want to exchange that for something your Bosc can use to burrow into. A small Bosc will need about an 8 to 12 inch layer of dirt for this purpose. Any unfertilized dirt will do as long as it holds a burrow and they recognize it as something useable. There are a number of types of dirt you might look into and mixes of several things like Topsoil and sand or another type of dirt called sandy loam, which seems to be popular with several owners lately. Once your Savannah becomes an adult and you have his or her adult cage finished, I’d recommend 24 inches of dirt for this same purpose.
Hiding areas are also a must, even though they will dig burrows as hides. Try to provide them with tight, dark, and warm spaces to squeeze into. A climbing log probably wouldn’t go amiss either as well as using PVC piping to bury in the substrate and let your monitor burrow down to them.
Lighting and Heat
This is where most people’s husbandry fails because they’ve been given completely wrong information as to what temperatures a Savannah Monitor requires in order to thrive. First the basking spot. Any solid, flat, heat-retaining material can be used. Laid flat on the substrate beneath the lights. What I, and many others recommend for lights are Halogen bulbs from the hardware store and ceramic sockets so the lamp doesn’t melt from the heat. Ideally, a basking spot (measured from the surface of the object and not the air temperature surrounding it) should reach between 120 and 150 degrees F. This high of a temperature allows the monitor to keep its digestive and immune system in perfect working order and to maintain their core body temperature at the proper level. In my opinion the two most important things in monitor husbandry are basking spots and burrows.
Ambient temperatures on the warm side of the cage should be between 90 and 95 degrees F. The Cool side should be between 78 and 83 degrees. Giving your monitor a range of temperatures and hides to choose from is always a good idea. The more choices they have the more likely they are to remain healthy.
UVA/UVB lighting is not a required thing with monitors as long as proper diet is given.
This is one of the most often disputed subjects in the realm of monitor husbandry. Some people will say a Savannah should be on an almost completely insect diet. Others will say an all rodent diet, or the turkey diet (lean ground turkey mixed with vitamins and supplements). I, personally, lean towards the all rodent diet as a bosc becomes older. When young, insects are a great thing for them but they usually gradually lose interest in chasing crickets as they become bigger. I had my own 9 inch hatchling on newborn rat pups and went from there in terms of increasing food size as she grew. A hatchling of that size should be fed daily and as much as they’ll eat in a day. Trust me you’ll be amazed at just how much it can eat and the size of the food item it can swallow.
Whole foods are generally better for them (mice, rats, chicken peeps, quail, crickets etc) since your monitor will tend to get all needed nutrients and roughage from the skin, fur, teeth, bones and internal organs of the prey item. If you choose to feed insects or the turkey diet, calcium and multivitamin supplements will be a must. In a squeeze or as a way to broaden the diet a bit you can buy chicken wings and cut them into bite size pieces, bone and all then package and freeze them. Thaw in hot water and dip into calcium/multivitamin powder and feed. I do not cook any meats I may give my Savannah. They are geared to eating raw and sometimes rotting meat so raw meat in captivity won’t hurt them.
Another easy thing you can make to vary your monitor’s diet is scrambled eggs. Crack the egg and crumble the shell into the stuff, mix it up and toss it in the microwave for between 30 seconds and one minute until the eggs are cooked. Let them cool then serve it on a plate or in a bowl. This is a once in a while treat. Not something for every day.
Fresh, clean water is also a must. My Savannah will use her water bowl as a bathroom. It makes cleanup quite a bit easier. Dump it down the toilet, sterilize the bowl with a bit of bleach and water, rinse well and refill.
I, personally, don’t recommend handling a newly acquired monitor unless its absolutely necessary for the first few months. Patience is the biggest key with these guys and one you must have a lot of. Getting them used to your presence and routine should be your first priority. Gaining your monitor’s trust can take as little as a month or as long as a few years. Even then, sometimes it never happens and that is one of the little facts you need to be prepared to handle when you acquire a monitor. Once a Bosc hits their adult size, they do tend to calm down somewhat about being touched and petted. Picking up can still be a problem. There is one thing you never want to do unless you have no choice and that is to pull your monitor out of its burrow or hide spot. That is its place of safety and comfort. You wouldn’t want to be dragged forcibly out of your home.
The Bosc monitor isn’t for everyone and indeed, is not the beginner monitor so many people try to say it is. They are a difficult species to keep properly and require large amounts of space to allow them exercise. Savannah Monitors are very prone to obesity in captivity, especially when basking temps are not maintained and the size of the enclosure is inadequate. If you don’t mind having an animal that may hate you for its entire life then a Savannah Monitor may be for you. In the end, its up to you and what you want in a “pet”. If you want something that will sit and watch TV with you all the time.. get a dog. But, if you want a challenge and are willing to see that challenge through then by all means, look into the wonderful world of Monitors.